Bicycle Industry Insider Profile: John Black

Aside from bicycles, of course, the main reason I choose to continue my futile search for fortune in the bicycle industry is because of the people I know and meet. There’s no shortage of extremely smart and passionate people who are insanely interesting, individualistic personalities. Sure it’s cool to be around famous athletes from time to time, but I much more deeply value the less publicly visible people that make the bicycle world go ’round. As such, I’ve decided to revive a special online series where we do a very brief standardized interview with some of these individuals: The Bicycle Industry Insider Profile Series. I want to share the stories of these people with the rest of the world through the Dirt Rag and Bicycle Times web sites. This week we have…

Name: John Black

Hometown: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Current location: Same, lived here my entire life.

What do you do for/with/to bicycles? My brother Tom and I are partners, Velocity is our company.  Together, along with the best people in the industry (maybe the whole planet!), we try to provide high quality, unique rims and wheels to all businesses in the cycling community.

What’s the best thing about your job? There are many best things about my job, I absolutely love it, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.  Knowing what it takes to produce a rim from start to finish, I get a real sense of satisfaction when I see some one rolling down the street on our rims.

I like taking an idea and bringing it to fruition. I especially like it when it works!  We don’t always hit a home run , but when we do, it is a great feeling.

What’s the toughest part of your job? Paperwork, I hate it!  Jumping through all the hoops that our heavy handed federal, state, and local governments require is a major pain in the a**.

What was the path that led you to work with bicycles? It was the spring of 1978, I had just turned 14.  I was getting real tired of cleaning dog kennels, which was my first real job other than delivering papers, mowing lawns and shoveling driveways.  Tom was managing Alger Cyclery, a local bike shop, and I begged him for a job.  I wore him down, and he finally made me an offer.  You can see that I have been riding his coat tails for a long, long time.  I felt very fortunate to be making a whopping $3.65 per hour…at the time I didn’t know what I was going to do with all of that money.  There were several occasions that I was nearly fired. Bike wrenching did not come naturally to me, and it took me weeks just to figure out which end of the screwdriver to hold.  Eventually, I figured things out, Tom moved on, and I became manager.  In the mid-80’s Tom moved to Australia, and started tinkering in his shed. The first Velocity product was a water bottle cage.  He contacted me at the bike shop and asked if I would be willing to bring in some of the cages to see how they would go.  Over time, he successfully made his first rim, and I brought those in as well.  In 1991 or so, Tom and I started talking about the possibility of me quitting my job at the bike shop and starting Velocity USA.  We incorporated in August of 1992, abd by the summer of 93 it was my full time gig. I haven’t looked back since.

What was your first bicycle? My first bike was a purple Schwinn Bantam that was handed down to me from my sister.  Being the youngest of five kids, I got all the used worn-out crap that my brothers and sisters no longer wanted.  I got my first new bike on my 8th birthday in 1972. It was a red Schwinn Speedster—I loved that bike.  The first bike I bought was a 1976 Schwinn Superior. I bought it within days of starting my job at Alger.  My first several paychecks went right back to my boss in order to pay for the bike.  I am still riding that bike today, and plan on being buried with it.

What bike do you currently ride the most? A white Milwaukee fixed gear that my staff bought for me last year.  It was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me.  It is a great bike and a thrill to ride.

Where is your favorite place to ride? Anywhere and everywhere.  Running out of pavement doesn’t stop me. If it looks interesting, that’s the direction I go.

What music goes through your head while you ride (literally or figuratively)? Whatever my iPod is pumping out at the moment, which is usually oldies, classic rock, and anything that came out of Motown.  In my opinion, the best music was written in the 50s and 60s. I mean, how can you not like Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee (The Killer) Lewis?!  There is some good stuff from the 70s too.

What are your interests aside from bicycles? My wife (high school sweetheart) of nearly 24 years is of great interest to me.  I enjoy traveling with her, which doesn’t happen nearly enough. But now that our youngest boy will be a senior in high school this fall, the time is coming when we can blow Dodge a little more often.

If you weren’t working around bicycles, what do you think you’d be doing? After being in the bike industry for 32 years, I just can’t imagine doing anything else. I am exactly where I want to be.

Please share one of your favorite stories you’ve seen or been a part of while involved with the bicycle industry: Hmmm, that’s tough, it seems like each new day brings a new favorite story.  I suppose one of my favorite stories was in the early days of Velocity…when I was knocking on doors and making phone calls to introduce myself and our company. Many people, including names that more than a few people would recognize, told me that a new rim company was the last thing this industry needed.  They went on to say that basically: my efforts would prove to be futile, there just wasn’t any need, or room for another rim company. Well, we are still here, and I am glad I didn’t listen to them.

Who would you choose for the next subject for the Bicycle Industry Insider Profile Series? This is my most difficult question to answer, there are so many fantastic people in our little industry.  Seeing as how I have to make a choice, I pick  David Cory of Quality Bicycle Products.

Why? David is the brand manager for Handspun wheels at QBP, he loves bicycles, and he is a wealth of knowledge.   If I ever have a bicycle related question, he usually has the answer. He is generous with his time and the information he gives us.  Besides that, he is just plain nice.


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